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Rediff.com  » Sports » FA Cup: Can Chelsea save their season? Will Mourinho surprise?

FA Cup: Can Chelsea save their season? Will Mourinho surprise?

Last updated on: May 16, 2018 16:24 IST

Antonio Conte

IMAGE: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photograph: Chelsea FC/Twitter

It might not save manager Antonio Conte's job but Chelsea can still salvage a disappointing season by winning Saturday's FA Cup final against Manchester United, says captain Gary Cahill.

A year ago Conte's team went into the Wembley showpiece against Arsenal as Premier League champions and were one win away from completing the double in the Italian's first season.

While a 2-1 defeat by the Gunners stung it was not considered the end of the world. A similar outcome on Saturday, however, would be unpalatable for the Blues.

 

They finished the Premier League season in fifth place, 30 points behind champions Manchester City, and will have no Champions League football to look forward to in September.

For Cahill it has been an especially trying campaign with poor form resulting in him losing his place at various stages of the season and falling down the England pecking order.

But victory on Saturday would represent a silver lining.

"Last season in the Cup final we didn't switch off. We just had a relaxed atmosphere," Cahill told reporters at Chelsea's FA Cup final media day.

"We went into it thinking with our momentum we could just deliver like we did for the rest of the season."

"This is a different kind of feeling. This is like we are going into it to save the season.

"We've fallen short in other competitions but we haven't fallen short in this one yet."

The rise of the Champions League has made finishing in the Premier League's top four spots imperative for England's biggest clubs, both because of the income it generates and the showcase it provides to attract top signings.

Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said this month that finishing in the top four meant more than winning a trophy.

Cahill begs to differ.

"You can't tell me the FA Cup isn't ranked high. You are talking to the wrong fella," he said. "Maybe if you talk to some of the other boys...The FA Cup ranks as high as you like. It's right under winning the league for me.

"I've grown up around it. It's an opportunity to win the final. It's like if you are in the top four and qualify for the Champions League for seven or eight years, but don't win any trophies. Would you swap that for what we've done?

"I wouldn't, but that's me personally."

With Conte widely-expected to move on in the close-season there has been an air of uncertainty around the club in recent months.

If Saturday's clash is to be his last game Cahill wants to make sure Conte's reign ends on a high.

"It's been a strange season," he said. "There's been speculation here, there and everywhere. There has been all sorts of different things. It's entertaining!

"We can win the Cup and finish on a high."

Cahill has endured a difficult season on the pitch and is by no means a certainty to start Saturday's final.

His patchy form has also put his place in England's World Cup squad, which is announced on Wednesday, in jeopardy.

"I'll wake up on Wednesday and if I'm in, I'm in. I'll go there and give everything I've got. If I'm not in I'll go away with my family and reflect," he said.

"It won't affect my preparations for the Cup final. My CV is there. It's just whether they want to use it.

"That's not my decision."

Chelsea's Courtois expects Mourinho 'surprises' in FA Cup final

Jose Mourinho

IMAGE: Jose Mourinho during a press conference. Photograph: Manchester United FC/Twitter

Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho "always has surprises" up his sleeve and the Belgian predicts another thrilling encounter when the two teams meet in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Mourinho has switched to a back-three as well as used midfielder Ander Herrera to man-mark Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard in the two teams the last few encounters.

Courtois, who won the Premier League title under the Portuguese in the 2014-15 season, said Chelsea are now better prepared for the challenge as they hope to finish the season with a piece of silverware.

"He always has surprises in the games he has played against us," Courtois told the London Evening Standard. "He has different systems to play. Sometimes he played three at the back, sometimes four. He will always find something.

"I think it'll be a good game, lots of familiar faces on both sides. I hope it'll be a good game with Chelsea as the winner.

"We can know a little bit how he set up in the last two years against us, but that's it."

A 3-0 defeat at Newcastle United on the final day of the league season ended Chelsea's hopes of Champions League qualification as they finished fifth in the standings.

However, Courtois is confident the recent results will have no impact on their preparations for the final at Wembley Stadium.

"The confidence is all right," he added. "It was not a good performance from us. But we've showed we can bounce back the game after.

"This is a different cup, different to the Premier League and we just have to go for it. That's most important. After a season of ups and downs, we can finish on an up."

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